A Word from Our Founders
Since we created Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI) in 2009, it has felt like a living, breathing creature. SOI lives on the water, in the deep sea, and on land, wherever humans may be endeavoring to understand our ocean. It evolves and grows and improves with time, connecting more people to the ocean, strengthening networks of scientists, and communicating with the world about the wonders it holds.
Our research vessel – named for the luckdragon, Falkor – was not new when it came into our hands. It was our talented shipbuilders, staff, and crew, alongside participating scientists from collaborating institutions, who evolved it from its former purpose–protecting fisheries as Seafalke–into a state-of-the-art floating laboratory for marine science. Even when the renovated R/V Falkor first hit the water in 2012, we knew that we would have to keep evolving to remain state-of-the-art and to continue to offer the best opportunities for science and learning. We updated equipment, incorporated new technologies, and built an underwater robot, SuBastian. Thanks to the scientists from around the world who joined our expeditions, we found dozens of new species and a towering coral reef spanning hundreds of meters and garnered new insights into how the deep sea works. In 2016, R/V Falkor produced a high resolution map of a newly created landmass, the undersea portion of a volcano that first appeared in January 2015. This is the same Tongan landmass that erupted in 2022. In the past year, we led numerous expeditions, mapped nearly 120,000 square kilometers of seafloor, pursued new collaborations, and advanced the field of ocean science.
Last year marked another momentous step in our evolution: we launched an ambitious strategic plan for the decade and acquired a new vessel to transform into the most technologically advanced research ship in the world. In 2022, the world will meet R/V Falkor (too). We see our work as a neverending story – and, much like the tale from which the name Falkor comes, life continues. We hope you will read on to learn more about the past year, and join us in all the years to come, as we continue to grow and evolve, deepening our understanding of, and connection to, our ocean.
Eric and Wendy Schmidt
Executive Director’s Note
In science, the word evolution has a very particular meaning. It is a change in the characteristics of a species over time.
This year witnessed a step-change in the evolution of the Schmidt Ocean Institute (SOI), and, during my second year at the helm of SOI, I am proud to work alongside our extraordinary and dedicated staff, crew, Advisory Board, and principals who made this possible.
In March we finalized the first Schmidt Ocean Institute Conceptual Framework and Strategic Implementation Plan, just before acquiring our new 110-meter research vessel, R/V Falkor (too). The 10-year Strategic Framework, One Ocean – Seven Continents, Seven Topics – One Decade, builds upon SOI’s foundation and provides a Pathway to the Future that merges research, technology development, and broader engagement across seven topical areas that are essential to exploring and answering critical questions to characterize our ocean.
Instrumental in continuing our collaborative research in the next decade and beyond is our new R/V Falkor (too). This vessel, with three times the interior capacity of R/V Falkor and more than six times the deck space, is currently at Freire Shipyard in Vigo, Spain, where advanced scientific labs and equipment are being added, including the largest gondola and sonar array on a research vessel.
As the world continued to navigate the pandemic for another year, R/V Falkor was Crossing Oceans in 2021 as it sailed from Australia – across the Pacific and the Atlantic – to Pass the Baton to R/V Falkor (too) in Spain, completing seven expeditions along the way. With scientists from around the world, we mapped almost 120,000 square kilometers of seafloor, performed almost 80 dives with ROV SuBastian, and collected 97 terabytes of data that have been submitted to public data repositories. From flying the Seabed 2030 flag and Pinging in the New Year by collecting the first seafloor mapping data of the UN Decade in Australia, to gathering the first high quality footage of a glass octopus in the Phoenix Islands, R/V Falkor and the work done onboard inspired the world. And in recognition of the operational excellence on R/V Falkor throughout the last two years, we were proud to accept the AltaSea Explorers Award in October.
Underlying our activities are valuable partnerships – from working with scientists and artists who sail with us to collaborating with incredible organizations. Building Connections and Collaborations are a key piece of amplifying our impact, and 2021 was no exception. We were delighted to formalize new partnerships with Nekton, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and the Marine Technology Society/IEEE Oceanic Engineering Society. We shared our expertise in technology and communications with our partners in the UN Decade of Ocean Science as we collectively work towards a decade of improved understanding of our beautiful and mysterious ocean ecosystem. Additionally, we expanded our cooperative work with the Ocean Exploration Trust and NOAA’s Office of Exploration and Research on the Deep Ocean Education Project to bring educational resources to a larger audience.
Throughout the year, we engaged the community with numerous conferences, podcasts, ship-to-shore connections, and other events, reaching an audience of over 52,000 people. In February, we hosted our first virtual symposium with our Advisory Board, who moderated the sessions, providing space for our alumni and networks to connect and share their research ‘Beyond the Cruise’. Working with Nekton allowed us to better envision new avenues for engaging public audiences with the ocean, as evidenced by the Oceans Rising white paper and workshop we conducted in July. In November, we premiered our short film, “Climate Under Pressure”, and hosted a panel discussion on this topic at COP26 in Glasgow, emphasizing the need to include the deep ocean in the international dialogue on climate change. Our outstanding communications team earned three MarComm Awards (including a Platinum Award for the 2020 Impact Report!) and a film festival award for our film on the Ningaloo Canyons expedition.
This year we also expanded our commitment to diversifying voices in oceanography with several new initiatives, including providing support to scientists with dependents at home and broadening access to field work for scientists. Our Artist-at-Sea program brought artists onboard from the regions where R/V Falkor was operating and we funded previous Artist-at-Sea Taloi Havini’s first international solo exhibit at the Ocean Hall in Venice, Italy.
These are just some of the activities covered in this report. 2021 was the start of the Ocean Decade, with people and groups coming together from around the globe to make the Ocean a priority – biodiversity, seafloor mapping, and ocean sciences for sustainable development. We look forward to the future, implementing our new strategic framework to boldly explore our unknown ocean, and commencing operations to support research and technology development onboard the R/V Falkor (too). If ever there was a time for this evolution, this is it.
PATHWAY TO THE FUTURE
ONE OCEAN. SEVEN CONTINENTS. SEVEN TOPICS. ONE DECADE.
Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Strategic Framework for the coming decade was launched in 2021, sharing plans to merge research, technology development, and broader engagement to explore and answer critical questions about the ocean. With a vision of committing to seven topics that are essential to understanding the ocean, we will boldly explore our one unknown ocean as it touches upon all seven continents.
PASSING THE BATON
This year, R/V Falkor passed the baton to Schmidt Ocean Institute’s new research vessel, Falkor (too).
The newly acquired 110-meter vessel has impressive characteristics, including a state-of-the-art propulsion system designed to keep the ship stationary in extreme seas, and is currently undergoing a year-long conversion at a shipyard in Vigo, Spain to add laboratories and a broad suite of science systems.One hundred forty kilometers of new cables are being pulled through the ship and will contribute the most comprehensive data network and communication systems ever embedded in an oceanographic research vessel. R/V Falkor (too) will also carry one of the world’s largest gondolas under the hull, hosting a vast array of the most advanced scientific echosounders and sonar. Along with the science systems, this array will allow scientists to study the entire water column from the surface to 11,000 meter depths and even 200 meters into the rock under the seabed.
The interior areas of R/V Falkor (too)’s main deck will be renovated into offices, seven different laboratories, and a robotics mission control room. The ship’s accommodation cabins, lounges, messroom, and meeting spaces are being upgraded to provide comfort for everyone aboard.
These conversions, based on months of planning and execution by the skilled shipyard, operations team, crew, and many others, will transform R/V Falkor (too) into a sophisticated oceanographic research vessel, providing a platform for international collaboration and worldwide exploration of our deep ocean. The possibilities for how scientists, engineers, artists, and community stakeholders may utilize this vessel are nearly limitless.
About R/V Falkor (too)
960 square meters
of aft deck space
can be lifted by a single overboard handling crane
of AV/IT cable
30 metric tons
supported by A-frame off the stern
of dedicated science gas lines to the labs
4 months at-sea endurance
3 multibeam echosounder arrays
EM 124, EM 712 & EM 2040 plus 17 other sounders
2 moon pools
one inside hangar and one on aft deck
BY THE NUMBERS
with more than 170 science days
of seafloor mapped
& 23 EARLY CAREER
scientists conducted research on R/V Falkor
UNDERWATER ROBOTIC DIVES
totaling 791 hours exploring the deep sea
SAMPLES and more than
to advance scientific
VIA 60 PRESENTATIONS & PODCASTS, AND 44 SHIP-TO-SHORES
78 SCIENCE PUBLICATIONS
400 + PRESS STORIES
REPORTED IN OVER 20 COUNTRIES & 13 LANGUAGES.
Reached more than 7 million people on facebook, twitter, and instagram
In 2021, R/V Falkor completed expeditions in Australia, traveled to the Phoenix Islands for a month of exploration, and then continued on it’s eastward journey across the Pacific to support research in Southern and Baja California. Seven expeditions resulted in nearly 2,000 sample collections and almost 800 hours of ROV diving.
“Studies like these help to demonstrate the value of marine protected areas and conservation. Although most of the deep sea is unknown and unseen, it is clear that it has transformative potential both for the ocean and for ourselves.”
Dr. Randi Rotjan, Boston University
Peering into the Deep
Blue Scale Worms
November 7th - Gulf of California - Dive 479
Peinaleopolynoe orphanae was discovered during SOI's 2018 expedition to the Pescadero Basin and officially announced as a new species in 2020; a large quantity of the species were found to be living on the newly discovered 'Melsuu vent.
New Hydrothermal Vents
November 2nd - Gulf of California - Dive 473
Two new hydrothermal features, named Maija Awi and ‘Melsuu, were documented during the Interdisciplinary Investigation of the Pescadero Basin expedition, providing further insight into the hydrothermal vent communities in the area.
Collaboration and community are essential to our mission. Schmidt Ocean Institute is excited to build relationships and formalize new partnerships, many with the vision of broadening access to and participation in the marine sciences. R/V Falkor is not just a vessel for science but also a bridge from the deep sea to the communities living in regions where we operate.
Schmidt Ocean Institute was honored to receive the following awards acknowledging our dedication to deep sea exploration and sharing our findings with the public.
Alta Sea Blue Hour – Explorer Award